YouTube – the death of the “keynote speaker” business model?

YouTubeYouTube, Vimeo and other online video services are very powerful communication channels. What could be a better promotional platform for the professional keynote speaker than to post her past performances as videos on the web?

However, who wants to invite and pay a keynote speaker to repeat what she has already told the rest of the world for free on YouTube or Vimeo?

The challenge for most keynote speakers in today’s tough financial environment is the price/performance issue. Keynotes may be interesting to listen to, but they don’t change much and they are not always so entertaining.

The keynote speaker dilemma

Rolligs StonesAs an entertainment element, keynote speakers are competing with musicians, standup comedians, ventriloquists, magicians and other performing artists. Most people will prefer to be entertained by an entertainer and experience something funny or spectacular.

We all enjoy famous musicians when they repeat their greatest hits. Personally, I have paid to see the Rollings Stones more than 10 times. I  have all their records and several DVD’s, but a live performance is a different thing. However, not all musicians are like the Rolling Stones to me. Some I would pay to see once and most I would never pay to see.

Listening to the same keynote speaker repeating the same pitch twice isn’t much of an attractive option to me. The keynote speaker delivers something interesting, often with a touch of newness wrapped in an entertaining format. When you have seen and heard it once, a repetition may be boring and irritating.

Keynote speakers are seldom change agents

Although keynote speakers are promoted as a sort of change agent, they cannot accomplish much with a 30-45 minute one-way pitch followed by 10-15 minutes of questions and answers. Most business executives these days know it takes much more to change behavior than having someone say interesting things for 30-45 minutes. Thus most would go for the entertainer and leave the behavioral stuff for more in-depth and interactive events.

Take this example showing Simon Sinek delivering a keynote at a Top Executive conference in Copenhagen on February 6, 2013. Simon Sinek: Start with why

Then compare the Copenhagen keynote to his TED presentation three years earlier.

I don’t want to pick on Simon Sinek because he actually delivers a very good pitch. The content is excellent and he delivers the messages in a forceful and entertaining format. Simon is an excellent keynote speaker.

I am only questioning the value of seeing him live on stage and paying for it compared to watching him free on YouTube.

Where is the added value?

The need for celebrity

Bill ClintonThere is still a need for adding a celebrity to the agenda of an event. The sheer show-off effect displaying your ability to afford a celebrity on the agenda can be the endorsement of the event. Celebrities can afford to repeat their pitches, because it is not primarily their message you come to experience. Going to an event attended by celebrities sort of makes you a “celebrity” yourself and many people appreciate this feeling.

“I met Bill Clinton the other day…”

Celebrity keynote speakers are typically made on a platform of past successful performance. Retired CEO’s, successful artists, previous presidents and similar people are traveling the world to deliver keynote speeches. Their value is amplified by the publicity they enjoy and people come to listen because they have been successful. What they say is not so important. Such keynote speakers don’t need YouTube, Vimeo etc. They are already well known and in high demand. At least for some time. Celebrities do wear out.

Customized Keynotes

With the option of watching any keynote speaker live on the Web, the focus will move away from the “canned” message and to the speaker herself.

I have attended a number of events where the keynote speaker had done research on the company and the subject of the event and delivered a customized keynote. That was very powerful learning experience and extremely entertaining. I believe there still is a strong market for that.

Keynotes as promotions

Personally I did a customized keynote at conference in Scotland just lately. The title of my keynote was “An Introduction to the Anatomy of the Software Industry.”

This is a highly customized keynote presentation. It takes times to do the research and development of customized keynote presentations. Thus at first glance the business model has more cost. However, my objective is not to sell myself as a keynote speaker. My objective is to show my industry insight, my analytical capabilities and my presentation skills. I use keynote presentations as opportunities for doing research and staying up to date on recent developments. This is a part of promoting my books and myself as a keynote speaker and facilitator.

The customized keynote is the way  to go

If you are not a celebrity you will have to customize and/or change your keynote content continuously. Before people chose to go to an event they may check up on the speakers on the Internet. When they begin to experience that keynote speakers are delivering the exact  same content live as on YouTube they will stay away.

Time is precious and we do not want to waste our time and money on something which can be delivered to our iPad on the couch. Unless that something is Barak Obama or the Rolling Stones.


I write about issues related to revenue growth and globalization in the software industry.

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